2004-02-13 / Community

There’s Danger For Children On the Internet

Contributing Editor
By Miriam Rosenberg
There’s Danger For Children On the Internet By Miriam Rosenberg Contributing Editor

At the Arverne Library, Barbara Kavanagh and Beatrice Deanis listen as Detective Travis Rapp explains the dangers facing children on the Internet.At the Arverne Library, Barbara Kavanagh and Beatrice Deanis listen as Detective Travis Rapp explains the dangers facing children on the Internet.

The danger of predators and molesters preying on innocent children over the Internet was addressed by Rock away’s Weed and Seed program when it presented two workshops – at the Arverne Public Library and at the 101st Precinct’s monthly community meeting – on January 21.

According to The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (NYSDCJS) website, in 1995 two million children had access to the Internet from their homes. In 2002, over 45 million children had such access. By 2005, it is expected that 77 million children will be able to access the Internet.

At the workshop, Detectives Travis Rapp and Domingo Gonzalez, of the NYPD’s Computer Crime Squad, exp lained how predators work and what parents can do to keep their children safe on the Internet.

"This is the instant messaging generation," said Rapp, who called instant messages a key form of communication for young people. "Close to 13 million teenagers use instant messaging as a mode of communication. Obvious ly, this stat is a lot higher. Almost every kid has some form of communication with instant messaging."

Instant Messaging, which provides those using it with real time conversations over the Internet, and emails are the two forms of communication that are used when drawing children and teenagers in to the world of molesters and predators on the Internet.

Young people can be themselves, or who they what through profiles that they can fill out to go along with their screen names.

"It’s like their persona of who they are," explained Detective Rapp. "Pro files can be dangerous. Predators, molesters or the people on the Internet use [profiles] to search for certain criteria.

"For example, a bad guy wants to look for a blond haired, blue-eyed boy, age 10 to 1385[the guy] will look in the profiles because some kid put that [information] in his profile."

Parents must make sure that children do not put important information such as home addresses, date of birth, telephone numbers and full names in profiles.

Describing a case scenario used by the NYPD, Rapp explained how easy it was for the department to find information about a child with just the name and location provided in an online profile. In half an hour, they found out the child’s exact address and school.

Using instant messaging, pedo philes on the Internet will begin a conversation with sexual overtones with the youngster within minutes of the initial contact.

To explain the way a predator on the Internet works, Rapp discussed the first case tried for online offenses in New York City.

"We’ve gone undercover and pretended to be anything from an 80 year-old person to a 10 year-old child," continued Rapp.

In the case above, on one end was a federal agent, on the other end was "an individual, using a web cam, masturbating to the undercover agent who he thought was a 13 year-old girl."

Through emails almost anything can be sent – pictures (including nude ones), sound waves or video.

Other dangers for children on the Internet are inappropriate websites.

Many times young people are tricked into logging on to site because its domain name is similar to another. Rapp gave one example of a child who might want to get onto the website www.whitehouse.gov to write a school report. Websites with .com in the name are the most common and the mistake of typing www.white house.com could be an easy one. If a child does make such a mistake, the .com will goes directly to a pornography site.

The misspelling of a website name or an innocent search for a site using a simple word such as "boys" can bring up inappropriate sites.

"Children have the most exposure to things on the Internet," Rapp said. "As adults we can understand these exposures that we see, but to a child it’s very hard for them to comprehend and once exposed it’s very hard for them to erase it."

There is no such thing as privacy for a child when it comes to the computer. Parents need to know all their children’s screen names and passwords.

"When you set up the account, you set up the account for your child, you put the passwords in," continued Rapp.

Parents should know what is in their child’s profile and any links that may be there.

Also, the computer should never be put in a child’s bedroom.

"Put the computer in a common area – whether it be the kitchen, the living room – somewhere you can [discreetly look over their shoulders] and keep walking," said Rapp.

Rapp explained that there are many types of monitoring software, such as NetNanny and AOL Washer that parents could install on the computer without the child’s knowledge. Soft ware like this can keep track of websites the child has visited, log emails and more.

Unless the parent is present, the NYSDCJS website instructs parents to tell their children to never meet anybody they have met online or in chat rooms.

The Criminal Justice website also says that ground rules should be set for children for when they go online.

In addition, parents should not be afraid of the Internet. They need to learn the abbreviations and language that is used in instant messaging chats.

Parents should also let their children know that their concern is for their safety.

"If you feel that your child is a victim, save the evidence [chats, printouts of emails] and never blame the child," instructed Rapp, who said to get in touch with your local police immediately.

For additional information on Inter net dangers facing children and what parents can do, the NYSDCJS web site is http://criminal just ice.state.ny.us/ mis s ing/i_safe ty/i_in tro.htm, the website for the Center for Missing and Exploited Children is http://missing kids.com/. The Cyber Tipline/Child Pornography Tipline is 1 800 843-5678.

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